From He Got Game to White Men Can’t Jump. When basketball becomes legend on the big screen

“Basketball is like jazz,” said Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. It is an artistic form, where rhythm and inspiration punctuate every dribble, every action.

Basketball is an inspiring muse for the world of fashion, thanks to its underground spirit, to the cool NBA universe, to its visual heritage. Basketball is a subject increasingly used in contemporary art: an art enchanted by the countless nuances of the game invented by James Naismith. Basketball is also a point of reference and an ideal cue for great cinematography.

For this reason we propose a collection of films, 6 to be exact, which we believe are the greatest basketball masterpieces that have appeared on the big screen. Enjoy.

He Got Game

The direction of Spike Lee, the interpretations of Denzel Washington and Ray Allen. Three names are enough to understand the greatness of a film. In this gem, that has become a cult favorite, Jesus Shuttlesworth (played by Allen, a Bucks player at the time), is one of the nation’s top high school prospects. Fame, women, obscure prosecutors and big colleges come knocking on the door of this boy with no parents. Jesus, in fact, has to act as a father for his young sister. Jake Shuttlesworth (Denzel Washington), Jesus’ father, is in jail because he is responsible for the tragic homicide of his wife and, suddenly, finds himself returning to the playgrounds of Coney Island for his director. The goal of this journey is to ask his son to choose the university of Big State, alma mater of the state governor. A whirlwind series of events is triggered, culminating in a difficult rapprochement between a son full of rancor and a father consumed by remorse. He Got Game’ was presented at the Venice International Film Festival in 1998, accompanied by a wonderful soundtrack in which songs by Aaron Copland and inspired pieces by Public Enemy intertwine.

Glory Road

The history of the Texas Western Miners is a milestone in American social evolution. The small Texas college, thanks to the visionary decisions of coach Don Haskins, was the first team with a line up of only black players in an NCAA final: the one played in 1966 against highly-rated Kentucky,  led by conservative Adolph Rupp. Acts of intimidation, racial insults, public resistance and the desire for change populate this film, masterfully directed by James Gartner, and the entire march of the Miners to the promised land of the national title. The film, a fundamental historical testimony, was nominated for the famous Humanitas Prize, an award for films that promote human dignity and freedom, and won the ESPY Award in 2006.

White Men Can’t Jump

In Los Angeles, the playground is folklore and trash-talking, it’s dollars and snazzy outfits. It was already like that in the 90s, as witnessed by the legendary film White Men Can’t Jump. In the iconic court of Venice Beach, Billy Hoyle (Woody Harrelson) and Sidney Dean (Wesley Snipes) meet each other: streetballers who are, not only because of the color of their skin, polar opposites. An unexpected friendship grows between the two, a basketball affinity that leads them on an ironic and successful journey through the most recognized playgrounds of LA: a journey in search of easy money. The background to the story is a prejudice that has always been present in basketball: the lack of athleticism in white players. It is only a coveted dunk that puts an end to this age-old diatribe.

The legacy of Space Jam

From Michael Jordan to LeBron James, from basketball played to the rhythm of the great Bulls to contemporary hyper-technological basketball experienced as a video game, from the Looney Toons to the Looney Toons. The second chapter of Space Jam (A New Legacy), recently released in theaters, has made many purists turn up their noses, yet it seems to embody the evolution of a film that has delighted generations of fans of the Game. James wears the crown given to him by ‘His Airness’ MJ also on the big screen, finding himself saving the world alongside the cartoonish team signed Warner Bros. In this new chapter  Charles Barkley, Patrick Ewing, Larry Johnson, Muggsy Bogues and Shawn Bradley are replaced by Anthony Davis, Damian Lillard, Klay Thompson, Nneka Ogwumike and Diana Taurasi. The female presence in the Goon Squad is just one of the many innovations grafted in the second Space Jam, set in a totally cybernetic world, where the always funny Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Porky Pig and partners take shape.

Coach Carter

Another film inspired by a true story. In this biographical overview Samuel L. Jackson plays Ken Carter: a coach committed to improving as players and, above all, as students and men, the boys of Richmond High School. Carter spreads the word of education among his young athletes, who are close to violent and criminal environments, putting academic results ahead of sports results. The Oilers, a team of unquestionable talent, even skip games, forced by their coach, to concentrate on the academic results: a choice that put Coach Carter in the middle of a storm of controversy, but that allowed many of his boys to obtain university scholarships. Also in this case, basketball becomes an instrument to tell a wonderful social story.


A more dated film than the others, Hoosiers is a 1986 masterpiece, directed by David Anspaugh and nominated for Academy Awards for Best Supporting Actor (Dennis Hopper) and Soundtrack. Gene Hackman plays Coach Norman Dale, a coach sidelined by the collegiate system who finds himself leading a small school team in Indiana to unexpected state success. The story, inspired by that of Milan High School, tells of human relationships and social entanglements within the Hickory community. The result is an intense fresco of the cryptic rural United States. The movie is really intense and it was chosen by the United States National Film Registry as a “culturally, historically and aesthetically significant work of art,” resulting, for this reason, subject to preservation by the Library of Congress.